Guardians of the Galaxy, the epic blockbuster that’s sweeping the globe right now, opening to massive record numbers, and somehow bringing the entire story of Marvel films, this franchise, and the entire comic book/fantasy genre itself to a new level, is undoubtedly this Summer movie season’s hottest ticket. The superhero space epic, punctuated by a smart script, action, intelligentsia, and class for a flick of this type and fluid direction, all of which plays in perfect concert with CGI, special effects, and the like, is also propelled by its music soundtrack*.
While there is an original score by Tyler Bates prevalent throughout the movie and presented in the classic traditional sense of the auditory scope of what’s expected in the genre, there is also a very unexpected harkening back to the glorious pop sounds of the 1970s in the picture. A soundtrack, titled Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1, has been released of these 12 nuggets, and I’ll explore all 12 below.
For the younger generations who are lapping this music up and who are curiously and instantly enthralled by it, most of them are hearing it for the very first time. It must be quite interesting indeed to see parents going with their kids who were young kids themselves, some of them not even born yet when this music first came out originally. And for sure, it’s quintessential pop music from an era in which there were so many influences which would blend into the respective genre (R&B, rock, ballad, light jazz, etc.) and it’s amazing to see how it’s found new breathed life here in 2014, thanks to its very prominent inclusion in Guardians of the Galaxy by way of director James Gunn, who co-wrote the script with each song in mind, and had main character Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, toting around his 80s cassette Walkman with an mixed tape of 70s tunes inside it.
So, as is my wont, below is a breakdown of each of the songs of the soundtrack, to give perhaps new listeners a sense of where they came from and just how different our galaxy was back then, 35 to 45 years ago.
Hooked on a Feeling – Blue Swede
Blue Swede was a Swedish rock band from the mid 1970s, who had their biggest successes via cover songs. And one of the biggest hits of theirs that was a cover is their brassy sharp version of the 1968 B.J. Thomas 1968 song, “Hooked on a Feeling.” The Blue Swede version made it briefly to number one on the American charts during 1974, mostly helped for sure by the Ooga-Chaka-Ooga-Chaka chant, something that was not in the original version and which is instantly recognizable (more so now than ever), and is a verbal iconic artifact from the 1970s when one thinks of its colorful pop culture. 22 years ago, it was retread into the public consciousness by way of Quentin Tarantino’s usage of it in his bloody Alpha males gone wrong caper Reservoir Dogs, but of course the song reflected a different vibe then. With its usage in Guardians — which first popped back into the public consciousness with the trailer, “Hooked on a Feeling” is brought back to its intrinsic, almost surreal kind of carnival barker easygoing song that it is.
Go All The Way – The Raspberries
With its explosive opening of guitar buzz and fuzz, to its more calm down as the poppy and Beatlesque arrangements, and then the singing of Eric Carmen takes over, “Go All the Way” by Cleveland’s The Raspberries, is a wonderful slice of hard pop. It reached number five when first released back in July of 1972 and highlighted a band that was equal parts The Who and bands like The Nice rolled into one. Carmen later had a solo career with hit songs that are either dramatic pieces of pop confection or pretentious sonic drivel, depending on one’s taste regarding it, such as “All My Myself” and “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again.”
Spirit in the Sky – Norman Greenbaum
Since 1969, this uplifting, confidence soaring easy singalong tune has been in the public consciousness one way or another. Sooner or later, “Spirit in the Sky” is heard in a film (although, it didn’t make it into the final cut of Guardians), or salaciously used to sell products on television ranging from questionable medicinal products to airlines, and although it was a one hit wonder for Noah Greenbaum (who was also a prolific songwriter for other projects and artists), it remains burned and etched in our memories, and always will be.
Moonage Daydream – David Bowie
For sure, the serendipitous dark horse in the bunch, the proverbial sonic joker in the deck, “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie, which sports an absolutely chilling and masterful guitar solo by Mick Ronson at its end, is one of glam rock’s finest hours. Recorded in 1972 and included on Bowie’s “Spirit in the Sky” guise of Ziggy Stardust on the space-age album of the same name, to have heard this originally was like plugging in a frayed wire into a socket and then, instead of being intimidated by what has been done, watch the sparks come out of the socket like fireworks on Chinese New Year. The other songs on this collection might be quickly dismissed as knock-offs in terms of their face value, but “Moonage Daydream” remains in a higher league, a pinnacle for Bowie, Ronson, and company, a sort of auditory mixture of an A Clockwork Orange world with a THX-1138 soul. In the film, the songs plays as the Guardians make their way through the planet Knowhere to see The Collector.
Fooled Around and Fell in Love – Elvin Bishop
“Fooled Around and Fell in Love” hit #3 in May of 1976, and was written by bluesman Elvin Bishop, who applies a smidgen of that here, blended it with a sort of Eagles/Bad Company hybrid in the middle. A popular misconception is that Bishop sings the lead, but he gave that position to band background singer Mickey Thomas, who helmed the song with the very memorable and impassioned vocal lines throughout. The song is used in Galaxy as Star-Lord Peter Quill’s attempt to woo the assassin Gamora with his “pelvic sorcery.”
I’m Not in Love – 10CC
The dreamy, spacey, ethereal strains of “I’m Not in Love” by the English quartet 10CC hit a peak for the band, as it went straight to the top of the charts in 1975. The band was also later known for hits like “The Things We Do For Love.” The heavy yet light and sappy yet tasteful contradictory patterns that “I’m Not in Love” presents creates a sort of intoxicating wave of emotions when heard. Pop music for high-end listeners.
I Want You Back – The Jackson Five
Right away, from the chord that drops like a feather that weighs 100 pounds, the vibe, feel, and energy of “I Want You Back” instantly gets inside the listener and doesn’t let go. This tune was a hit for the five-piece family band from Indiana, led by the global late wunderkind Michael Jackson. Here, a tender ten-years-old and light years away from the monumental circus freight train that was to become his “normal” life, on this 1969 debut single for The Jackson Five, Michael sings with James Brown-style balls and yet still retains the innocence that the song needs for its success. With funky R&B pop chords and licks straight out of Motown’s stable and performed mainly by the Jackson brothers four (with Michael singing lead), “I Want You Back” ushers in a legendary band and artist, and solidifies and aurally fries and melds R&B and pop music in one effortless easy fell swoop.
Come and Get Your Love – Redbone
Made up of Native Americans, Redbone enjoyed success with “Come and Get Your Love” during the spring of 1974, with the song peaking at number five. With its relaxed feel, easygoing approach, and adventurous singing and single-note guitar passages making way for the crisp and somewhat funky backbeat, this is another song which puts one instantly into the zeitgeist of the 1970s upon hearing it once again. The song is featured in the film during the opening credits sequence.
Cherry Bomb – The Runaways
One of the first true all-female bands to really, truly kick high amounts of gluteus maximus, The Runaways, who hailed from Los Angeles, had released four records by the time the 1970s wound down which were adventurous pieces of punk music meets hard rock, stripped of pretension, sonically pumping it out all decibel. The band was ultimately almost like the The Ramones or The Stooges with a sex change. Almost nothing spits out of the gate like 1976’s “Cherry Bomb” does; it explodes with a fervor and passion, and it’s easy to see why it made the band and the song an absolute sensation in Japan when first released. Led by luminaries of the genre like Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie, The Runaways showed music that not only wasn’t it not just a man’s game, but that the men in that game better re-evaluate their own musical mettle. “Cherry Bomb,” which is the group’s most memorable and successful song, appeared on their debut self-titled album. The hard-hitting sounds of ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb can be heard in the film when the Guardians gear up to do battle, and especially doing the obligatory “group strut.”
Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes
Released 35 years ago, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” is about a marriage that’s on the rocks so the couple secretly tries personal dating (cyber dating was yet to be invented), only to find that they’ve been chatting with one another anonymously all the time. And because of this happenstance of course, in happy, perfect pop music land, the circumstance fixes the marriage and makes the couple stronger than ever, due to the litany of passions that each have, such as liking pina coladas and getting caught in the rain as the song’s infamous chorus intones. The song, by Rupert Holmes, who has co-penned various musical plays for decades, Sweeney Todd included, is sort of considered the low ebb of the 1970s musical tide, a laughable joke of a tune that, when used out of its original contextual form, is used as joke fodder and made to represent a negative apex of sorts. While that might be true, the song still has a sort of (dare I say it?) seductive quality that brings a listener in; the best vacuous pop music has the strength to be able to do that, and “Escape” has that (dare I say it again?) same quality as well.
O-o-h Child – The Five Stairsteps
Chicago’s The Five Stairsteps were a soul family group ala The Jackson Five or The Staple Singers, who in 1970, released “O-o-h Child,” a fervent sort of Sam Cooke-style “Change is Gonna Come” lite version, in which a positive message of lift-me-up is counterpointed by the breeziness of the presentation of the song, replete with soft brass arrangements and muscular bottom end. It was the band’s only top ten hit, topping out at number eight on the charts during the summer of 1970. For the film, this song is used in quite an interesting and unexpected way; I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say it’s during a dire circumstance.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
The late Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell show the world just how a soulful, upbeat, uplifting Motown song is done with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Gaye, who was reaching a peak here at the Detroit company with this 1967 release, and Terrell, who would tragically die only three years after the song was released, have reached a spot in the mantle that holds the Great American Song Book with this track, an authentic bonafide classic in every sense of the word. The song is only lifted by the gravitas of the duet. A cover version a few years later by Diana Ross, done in an entirely different style and full of musical cluttered gusto usually found in Phil Spector productions, was successful, but still nowhere near the range and scope of this version.
And that track is a perfect roundup to a collection that brings the listener back on a merry-go-round that was the 1970s, or puts them on it for the first time. And either way, it doesn’t make one dizzy riding on it, but yet dizzying with the mindless fun and calming and passionate creative energy that was pop music in America in the decade that was coined the “me” one, the 1970s.
But, in hindsight — in 2014 hindsight — there seems to be more community about that decade more than ever, a firm collectivity and anything but a singular one, as evidenced by the warm reception of these aforementioned songs due to their usage and inclusion in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is available on CD and MP3 Download. Note, if you purchase the CD through Amazon, you will instantly also get a FREE MP3 download. You can also purchase the Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack Score, which includes the 12 songs of the aforementioned Awesome Mix Vol. 1 along with the entire film score by composer Tyler Bates. (Or, you can get just the score as an MP3 download.)
UPDATE: The soundtrack reached Number 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart, Billboard announced on August 13, 2014, noting that this year is the first since 2009 where multiple film soundtracks reached No. 1. The Guardians album is the second soundtrack to top the charts this year, the first being another Disney release – the soundtrack to Frozen.